Game Review

by Dave Riley,

One Piece: Pirate Warriors


One Piece: Pirate Warriors
Play as Luffy, Nami, Zoro, and many others in this Dynasty Warriors-style interpretation of the One Piece universe.

It's difficult to write anything new about a Musou game (or the "Warriors" series, as we know it in the States). They are legion and they only change in the most superficial ways. They are frequently used as the butt of jokes or even held up as everything that is wrong with videogames. Moreover, One Piece is a decade-long anime series with more than five hundred episodes. So where do you even start?

Well, it has square-square-square-square-square and triangle-triangle-triangle combos that clear whole rooms at once. It has a mostly inconsequential difficulty, where minibosses can spawn and be killed before they're even noticed -- and if not that quickly, then certainly during a single special attack. It has pretty much featureless rooms that must be conquered in turn to save allies, who have limited contextual application in the world except to stand there and kind of haphazardly swing their weapon until you wipe out all the enemies, or until you perform a combination attack that lets you take control of them for a couple seconds.

Missions are distributed with a sense of urgency in the text that is not at all replicated in the gameplay, such as when Nami is "really, seriously going to die from illness and exposure if you don't get her to a bonfire within the next three minutes!" Pretty scary! Except that every life-saving fire is, at max, forty five seconds apart. There's some awkward attempts at platforming and puzzle solving, but most missions just shunt you from room to room and order you to kill another wave of spawned enemies.

Character customization is rote. There's a whole bunch of stat boosts to equip, for special attack and defensive boosts, but enemies pose such little threat that you'd be a fool to use anything but attack up abilities. The game heavily suggests that you equip items of respective friendly characters, like Luffy, Zoro, and Nami all at the same time, and the bonuses for this seem substantial, but irrelevant, because the primary enemy in any Musou game is a clod of faceless dweebs who all die in one combo, if not one hit, so time spent min-maxing your character feels pointless.

You can make the argument that these are games about playing a stupid, easy, but sort of fun beat-em-up with your friends on the couch, like in the old days. Yet, there is no co-op of any sort for the main campaign, and the multiplayer modes are gated by one's progression through the story. Playing with a friend at all means an unappealing singleplayer slog through Luffy's stages.

Who is this game for? Rabid fans who will turn a blind eye to the perfunctory combat because it gives them an opportunity to play through the stories they so love? If they were catering to fans with a passion for the story then they did a poor job of it. The levels are completely stripped down, with major battles ignored (saved for later games?) Lieutenant characters from the show who had two or three episodes devoted to them are replaced by generic thugs with giant clubs, if they're even referenced at all. The major characters and boss battles that are featured compress 15 episode arcs down into 15 minutes. In some respects this may be thought of as a plus -- Shonen fighting shows are not known for their pitch-perfect pacing -- but this whole-cloth reduction of the plot saps away every bit of emotion and the stapled-on Musou fight mechanics remove any sense of urgency. Luffy pulling out a last-second victory is less exciting when it follows a snoozer boss fight.

It's not the worst game to play with a friend, whenever you get around to actually unlocking all of the multiplayer. The mechanics work, it's not broken. It's fun to level up and learn new techniques. There is an undeniable appeal to performing a 3-hit combo and watching Nami separate her staff and debuff a group of enemies with a cloud of bubbles. There's a thrill when the game shows you that Zoro's iconic Tiger Trap move is as easy as pressing a couple buttons. Tony Tony Chopper, who is maybe the cutest thing ever, gallivants around levels with a happy, squeaky clip-clop sound effect to his hooves and his standard combo has him raging his tiny forelegs into the enemy for all he's got.

Who wouldn't like that!

Games like this exist as fan service. There's nothing wrong with that: it's exciting to see your favorite series recontextualized in a different medium. But the fan service doesn't really bear the game out, because it seems more like it's patronizing the fans, appealing to their wants in only a very bland, kind of half-assed way.

Musou games are static and inoffensive enough that their failures only register as mildly annoying. But why? Why doesn't this have even the varied weapons and equippable artifacts of CAPCOM's Sengoku Basara, a substantially better game in the same style. You can't say One Piece: Pirate Warriors is a bad game, it's not, but you can say this: in a world where no one has infinite free time, what is the point of playing a mundane game when there is a nearly insurmountable supply of truly excellent ones? A Musou game's greatest crime is that it is middle of the road entertainment. Maybe there isn't anything new to say about Musou games except that, after everybody's had their fill of mocking one, we should demand more of them.

Overall : C
Graphics : B-
Sound/Music : C
Gameplay : C-
Presentation : C+

+ Graphics and voice acting are nice, on par with what you'd expect from a game based on a big-time anime series
Combat is bland, and not held by spotty multiplayer support

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